Tag Archive for theater

Pearl Creates MILTON, a Performance, Community Engagement Experience

miltonFrom Wisconsin to Massachusetts, Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl has visited five small American towns named Milton and developed a series of performances, each focused on (and performed in) a particular Milton.

Since 2012, Pearl and Lisa D’Amour—known collectively as PearlDamour—have led the performance and community engagement experiment.

In November 2019, PearlDamour released MILTON, a book that includes the full text of PearlDamour’s North Carolina performance, along with photos and excerpts from performances in Oregon and Massachusetts, and essay reflections on the process and practice of community-based art-making.

For more than 20 years, Obie-Award winning PearlDamour has pushed the boundaries of theatrical experience both inside and outside traditional theater spaces. PearlDamour’s work also includes the 8-hour performance installation How to Build a Forestinspired by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill and devised for traditional theatre stages; and Lost in the Meadow, created for a 40-acre hillside at Longwood Botanical Gardens outside Philadelphia, exploring the short-sightedness of humans. They were honored with the Lee Reynolds Award in 2011 for How to Build a Forest, and with an Obie Award in 2003 for Nita and Zita.

This spring, Pearl is teaching the THEA 381 course Directing II.

Theater’s Francisco Directed International Productions, Interdisciplinary Workshops

William “Bill” Francisco, professor of theater, emeritus, died on Friday, Nov. 22,  at the age of 86.

Francisco received his BA from Amherst College in 1955, and his MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama in 1958. He joined the Wesleyan faculty as an artist-in-residence in 1974 and as an associate professor in 1975. He taught theater here for 28 years until he retired in 2002.

Francisco was an active director throughout his career, working in theater, opera, television, and film. He directed productions off-Broadway, at Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, San Francisco Opera, and many other prominent theaters across the U.S. and Canada. At Wesleyan, in addition to directing productions, he taught courses in voice, acting, and directing. He also taught a number of interdisciplinary workshops, including a screenwriting workshop with Kit Reed.

His colleague, Gay Smith, professor of theater, emerita, said: “What a gifted director! His productions of Waiting for GodotWho’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, and Évita are emblazoned in my memory, as I’m sure they are in the memories of his students, his most renowned and grateful for Bill’s tutoring being Lin-Manuel Miranda.”

Jack Carr, professor of theater, emeritus, said: “When I think back on my time with Bill, I immediately recall how he invested himself totally, intellectually and emotionally, in every production he directed and every student he mentored… He was the most inventive, innovative and inspiring director with whom I have ever collaborated. Bill also was a most supportive and loyal colleague/friend. I miss him every day.”

Francisco is survived by his nephew, Aaron Francisco and Aaron’s wife, Jennifer.

Parker ’48, First Theater Major, Mentor to Hamilton Creators, Dies at 92

Gilbert Parker ’48, a retired literary agent who represented many of the country’s most influential playwrights over the span of nearly half a century, died Oct. 29, 2019. He was 92 and had served in the US Navy during World War II.

The first theater major at Wesleyan, he earned his degree with honors and distinction. Beginning his career at Liebling-Wood, Inc., as the assistant to Audrey Wood, the renowned agent who represented Tennessee Williams and other significant playwrights, Parker later joined the William Morris Agency, retiring in 2000.

Parker was noted as an adviser and mentor to many young and aspiring Wesleyan theater majors, and in his honor, Thomas Kail ’99 and Claire Labine (a former client of Parker’s and creator/head writer of Ryan’s Hope) created a Wesleyan scholarship in Parker’s name in 2012. In a note to those gathered in New York City to celebrate the Gilbert Parker Endowed Scholarship, President Michael S. Roth ’78 had observed, “During your sparkling 50-year career as an agent, the Wesleyan community took pride in your reflected glory. You made this relationship with our alma mater deeper and more personal, then and following your retirement, by closely mentoring Wesleyan graduates in the theater world like Thomas Kail ’99, Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, John Buffalo Mailer ’00, and Bill Sherman ’02, among others. It’s wonderful that a group of your friends and protégés initiated this scholarship fund (and typical of your generosity, Gilbert, that you have contributed to it).”

A memorial service is planned for Parker on Feb. 3, 2020, in New York City. Those who would like more information, or would like to make a gift to the Gilbert Parker Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wesleyan University in celebration of his life, please contact Marcy Herlihy at mherlihy@wesleyan.edu; 860/685-2523; Wesleyan University Office of Advancement, 291 Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457.

Theater’s Oliveras Performs in World Premiere of Kiss My Aztec!

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

This summer, award-winning actor, singer, producer, and new assistant professor of theater Maria-Christina Oliveras acted in the world premiere of Kiss My Aztec, a new musical on Latino history.

Written by John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone, winners of the 2018 Special Tony Award for Latin History of Morons, the musical debuted May through July at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Performances will continue at La Jolla Playhouse starting Sept. 8.

Oliveras became involved in the musical’s developmental process in 2014, when it started out as a play and evolved over time.

“I am a new works junkie. There is nothing like ‘brain-childing’ a piece from its inception,” Oliveras said in a recent interview with Broadway World. She described the show as a “non-traditional epic musical comedy with teeth. It is brash, bold, hilarious and vulgar. An Aztec take or retake of history in the vein of Spamalot or Book of Mormon. We are not aiming for historical accuracy. And we are ‘equal opportunity offenders.'”

Jenkins Analyzes 200-Year-Old Theatrical Tradition in New Bilingual Book

Ron Jenkins, pictured second from left, celebrated his new book in a garden of an 18th century villa with performances of the play that is the subject of his book, Resurrection of the Saints: Sacred Tragi-Comedy in Venafro. He's pictured with actors, from left, Adriano Cimino, Gianni Di Chiaro, and Emanuela Paolozzi along with the translator of the Italian version of the book, the poet Maria Giusti.

Ron Jenkins (pictured second from left) celebrated his new book in the garden of an 18th-century villa with performances of the play that is the subject of his book, Resurrection of the Saints: Sacred Tragi-Comedy in Venafro. He’s pictured with actors (from left) Adriano Cimino, Gianni Di Chiaro, and Emanuela Paolozzi, along with the translator of the Italian version of the book, the poet Maria Giusti.

Ron Jenkins, professor and chair of theater, is the author of a new book titled Resurrection of the Saints: Sacred Tragi-Comedy in Venafro published by Bulzoni in July 2019 as part of the company’s international series on “Theater and Memory.” The volume is in dual languages; the first part is in Italian, the second translated into English.

Resurrection of the Saints is an analysis of a 200-year-old theatrical tradition in the Italian village of Venafro, where the citizens still perform an 18th-century play that recounts the martyrdom of their patron saints in the third century. In 1792, Giuseppe Macchia wrote the play, “Religion Triumphant” and labeled it “a sacred tragicomedy.”

The book includes Jenkins’s translation of the play and interviews he conducted with the performers, whose professions include nurse, architect, graphic designer, and art restorer.

“Framed as a battle between an angel and a devil for the souls of the saints, the play is a lost link between the medieval traditions of sacred theater and the modern comic masterpieces of the late Italian Nobel Laureate, Dario Fo,” said Jenkins, who has translated Fo’s works for performance at the Yale Repertory Theater, Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, and other venues.

“My experience working with Fo helped me to capture the comic theatrical rhythms of Macchia’s play,” he said. “Anyone interested in the power of the arts to unite a community and preserve the traditions that define its cultural identity would enjoy the play and this book.”

Jenkins is the author of numerous books and was named Honorary Member of the Dante Society of America for having performed theatrical representations of excerpts from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in prisons throughout Italy, Indonesia, and the United States. Resurrection of the Saints is part of Jenkins’s ongoing research on theater and community.

Mixed-Race, Interfaith Identities Explored through Performative Conversations

Middletown-based ARTFARM artistic director Marcella Trowbridge, center, works with Lola Makombo ’20 on crafting a performative conversation based on interviews with a family member.

Students in the Mixed in America: Race, Religion, and Memoir course explored mixed-race identities not only through reading, writing, and classroom discussion, but through performative art.

Matt Kleppner ’18 created a short performance based on an interview with his uncle.

Throughout the semester, students used the genre of the memoir as a focusing lens to look at ways that Americans of mixed heritage have found a place, crafted an identity, and made meaning out of being considered “mixed.”

The course is part of Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, which pairs non-arts faculty with artists for collaborative teaching and research. Professor Liza McAlister teamed up with the local professional theater organization ARTFARM to offer students a module of four classes under the instruction of artistic director Marcella Trowbridge.

In the students’ exploration of memoir, Trowbridge asked them to interview a family member and craft a short performative piece based on their interviews–or–their responses to their interviews.

“We spoke about ‘brass tack’ strategies for interviewing and documentation, but then left the linear procedural work for a process-based inquiry,” Trowbridge explained.

The class collaboratively brainstormed and worked physically with mark-making, personal items, architecture, kinesthetic response, and the use of space. Students also learned about using text, gestures, movement, sound, repetition, and props in a performance.

On April 18 and 19, the students shared their compositions with their classmates.

Paterson’s Senior Thesis Explores Urban Farming, Communal Activity, Performance

Theater and earth and environmental studies major Katherine Paterson ’18 moves a bin of radishes into a greenhouse she constructed on the Center for the Arts green on April 16. The greenhouse build was part of her senior thesis, which was accompanied by a performance and harvest on Earth Day. Paterson also is minoring in German studies.

Senior Katherine Paterson’s passion for theater and environmental studies has grown over the past two months while she constructed a greenhouse for an honors thesis that explores and links together urban farming, communal activity, and theater.

On Earth Day, April 22, Paterson presented (at)tend, a durational performance of song, poetry, and spoken word, which unfolded over the course of the spring semester. The project involved the collective construction, seeding, and tending of a greenhouse by students and community members, and culminated with a spring harvest.

“The goal of the project was to serve as an experiment in creative place-making—in creating a space that the larger Wesleyan community helps to build and maintain,” she said. “A greenhouse containing living plants brings people together and links them with one another and their environment.”

The thesis also explored the questions, “Where does our food come from? How does it grow? How does changing our relationship to food affect our interactions with one another and with our environments?”

Paterson’s advisor is Katherine Brewer Ball, assistant professor of theater. The project was sponsored by the Wesleyan Green Fund, the Department of Theater and the College of the Environment.

A photo essay of the thesis project is below (photos by Olivia Drake MALS ’08):

Feb. 29: Paterson kicked off the project inside a cold frame at Long Lane Farm. Cold-frame structures allow gardeners to get a head start on the growing season. Students broke up compacted soil and filled large bins. Paterson taught fellow students how to plant seeds and mark containers.

During the summer of 2017, Paterson conducted field research in New York City (funded by a College of the Environment grant). She interned at Harlem Grown, an urban farm, and visited Swale, a floating food forest. The experiences helped shape and inform her thesis project.

Students Study Theater in Chile over Winter Session (with Photo Gallery)

The THEA 357: Space and Materiality class traveled to Santiago, Chile, in January.

During Winter Session, 14 Wesleyan students studied live, site-based theater performances in Santiago, Chile.

The course, THEA 357: Space and Materiality, was taught by Marcela Oteíza, assistant professor of theater, and took place during the Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil (FITAM), the most renowned theater festival in Santiago. This was the first abroad course offered by Winter Session.

“It was a wonderful experience for students and myself; particularly, to be able to share in situ with them the social and cultural history of Santiago within the framework of the festival,” Oteíza said. “Students learned about performance and reception theories, while participating in the performances and activities that the festival had to offer.”

Twenty students applied for the two-week intensive course, of which Oteíza was able to take 14, including sophomores, juniors and seniors. Half were theater majors, but the group also included anthropology, English, Spanish, biology, mathematics and American studies majors.

As Theater Department Chair, Conlin Says Students Leave Strengthened to Generate New Work

Kathleen Conlin, the Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Theater—here, behind the scenes with stage lights—values a rich mix of visiting professionals and continuing faculty, which results in a stimulating “creative collision.”

The Theater Department has begun fall semester with a new chair who combines an impressive list of creative accomplishments with deep and varied experience as an academic administrator.

Kathleen Conlin, Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Theater, has held tenured faculty positions at the University of Texas at Austin, Ohio State University, and the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana. While juggling the varied demands of an academic career, she also served for 22 seasons as associate artistic director and stage director at the Utah Shakespeare Theater.

“I love being around young people who are not narrowly defined and are actively working to discover who they are and who they are in society,” she says. “To be able to do that through an arts lens is spectacular.”

Alumnae Collaborate on Play that Debuts Aug. 10 in NYC

Five alumnae and one student are collaborating on a play that will debut Aug. 10-13 in New York City.

Resistance, written by May Treuhaft-Ali ’17 and directed by Maia Nelles-Sager ’17, is about Libby, a 15-year-old girl from Queens struggling with her weight. Everyone in her life from her mother to her “specialist” is trying to help her lose weight, but none of them seem to understand the underlying issue. When her favorite spin teacher is fired, Libby discovers that violent revenge fantasies makes her feel better. But every time she has a violent revenge fantasy, she gains 16 pounds.

“Resistance touches on themes such as weight-loss culture, female relationships, and gentrification. The cast is entirely female-identifying, as is the production team,” said Nelles-Sager, a film and theater double major.

Nelles-Sager and Treuhaft-Ali are assisted by set designer Nola Werlinich ’17; properties designer and assistant set designer Jess Cummings ’17; graphic designer Caitlin Chan ’17; and sound designer Hope Fourie ’19. At Wesleyan, Nelles-Sager directed four shows with Second Stage and wrote a playwriting thesis; Treuhaft-Ali completed a directing thesis with the Theater Department.

Resistance will be performed at the Wild Project, a theater, film, music, and visual arts venue in New York’s East Village. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Aug. 10-12 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 12-13. Tickets are available for purchase online.

Jenkins Interviewed on BBC About New Play ‘Islands’

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins

Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins was a guest on the BBC program “Sunday” to discuss his new play, “Islands: The Lost History of the Treaty That Changed the World.” The play, commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch ceded Manhattan in exchange for the tiny spice island of Rhun, premiered April 21 and 22 at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.

Jenkins’ interview begins about four-and-a-half minutes in. Or, on the BBC page, scroll down and select the “Islands” chapter.

“We’re performing the actual text of the 1667 Treaty of Breda. In this treaty, if you look closely at the words, you’ll see that the English and the Dutch were ending their war,” said Jenkins told the BBC.

“As part of the agreement, they were also trying to erase from history all the awful things that they had done during the war. And among those awful things were the massacre of the indigenous Muslim population of the island of Rhun. And we have the Dutch character singing the words of the treaty, and then the indigenous characters question that. […] Those murders did occur and we can’t forget that. There’s a back and forth dialogue between the colonial masters and the indigenous victims of colonialism.”

Jenkins describes visiting Rhun. In the 17th century, Rhun was as valuable as Manhattan because it was the world’s primary source of nutmeg which, at the time, was worth its weight in gold. They met nutmeg farmers and were shown the nutmeg trees, which are still there.

The radio feature includes Wesleyan students singing songs written for the play by John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce and Artist-in-Residence in Music I. Harjito.

Brazilian Play on Cannibalism, Translated by Jackson, to Make American Debut

Elizabeth Jackson

Elizabeth Jackson

A Brazilian play, translated by Wesleyan’s Elizabeth Jackson, will make its American premiere at The Yale Cabaret in early February.

“The Meal: Dramatic Essays on Cannibalism” tells three stories about people consuming — and being consumed. This poetic piece by Newton Moreno, one of Brazil’s leading contemporary playwrights, was translated into English by Jackson, adjunct associate professor of Portuguese for Wesleyan’s Romance Languages and Literatures Department.

Jackson’s translation of “The Meal” first appeared in Theater, Yale’s journal of criticism, plays, and reportage (Vol. 45 No. 2, 2015). “The Meal” is one of four texts by different playwrights that Jackson translated for the journal. In addition, Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater, co-edited this special issue on contemporary Brazilian plays.

“The Meal” will be performed at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Feb. 2-4 at The Yale Cabaret. Tickets can be purchased online.